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Competitive Cities: Bucaramanga, Colombia – An Andean Achiever

Z. Joe Kulenovic's picture

Modern business facilities, tourist attractions, and an expanding skyline: Bucaramanga, Colombia. 

When the World Bank’s Competitive Cities team set out to analyze what some of the world’s most successful cities have done to spur economic growth and job creation, the first one we visited was Bucaramanga, capital of Colombia’s Santander Department. Nestled in the country’s rugged Eastern Cordillera, landlocked and without railroad links, this metropolitan area of just over 1 million people has consistently had one of Latin America’s best-performing economies. Bucaramanga, with Colombia’s lowest unemployment rate and with per capita income at 170 percent of the national average, is on the threshold of attaining high-income status as defined by the World Bank.  

Bucaramanga and its surrounding region are rife with contrasts. On the one hand, it has a relatively less export-intensive economy and higher rates of informal business establishments and workers than Colombia as a whole. Indeed, informality has often been cited as a key constraint to firms’ ability to access support programs and to scale up. On the other, Santander’s rates of poverty and income inequality, and its gender gap in labor-force participation, are all better than the national average, and it has consistently led the country on a number of measures of economic growth, including aggregate output, job creation and consumption.   
But the numbers tell only part of the story. A qualitative transformation of Bucaramanga’s economy is under way. Once dominated by lower-value-added industries like clothing, footwear and poultry production, the city is now home to knowledge-intensive activities such as precision manufacturing, logistics, biomedical, R&D labs and business process outsourcing, as well as an ascendant tourism sector. Meanwhile, Santander’s oil industry, long a major employer in the region, has been a catalyst for developing and commercializing innovative technologies, rather than just drilling for, refining and shipping petroleum.

All these achievements are neither random nor accidental: They are the result of local stakeholders successfully working together to respond to the challenges of globalization and external competitive pressures.

Government could cheaply encourage citizens to save water by doing this

Laura De Castro Zoratto's picture
 Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Crises in access to water are making headlines around the world. Among difficult policy pathways to respond, convincing people to change their behavior and reduce their consumption can be one of the hardest.

This post gives us a promising picture from Belén, a small town in Costa Rica.  Of Belén’s 21,633 inhabitants, 99.3% have access to water service, but shortages are anticipated by 2030. Our recent study demonstrated that the government could cheaply encourage citizens to save water by enabling them to compare their consumption with that of their peers. 

This is a timely lesson, as the United Nations estimates that more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions by 2025.  Demographic and economic pressures make water management an increasingly urgent policy priority even in water rich areas like Latin America, home to nearly 31% of the world's freshwater resources. 

While Costa Rica is relatively well-endowed with water resources, current demand virtually matches production capacity  Risks of water deficits and existing shortages are heightened by overdevelopment of areas with limited water supply. To help address these challenges, we partnered with local authorities in the small municipality of Belén to conduct a randomized control trial, capturing an innovative approach that can help conserve water across the country, and in similar contexts around the world.

The project built on insights from the growing field of behavioral economics, which challenges the underlying, intentionally simplified assumption of standard models: that people make rational decisions based on a self-interested cost-benefit analysis. Behavioral economics borrows from other sciences to consider the full scope of social and psychological influences on human decision-making.

EITI agenda advances despite divergent views

Charles Feinstein's picture
Photo by EITI

Tensions were high at the international Board meeting of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Berne, Switzerland.  EITI Board members, 20 in all, including civil society representatives, investors, managers of multinational corporations, and implementing and supporting country officials, debated stridently for two days on issues like how EITI implementing countries are judged on whether they have met the requirements of the “Standard” set by the EITI. As my first EITI Board meeting, I was surprised to find such divergent views on operational issues when we clearly all agree on the end goal: increasing transparency in the extractive industries to decrease the space for corruption and enhance the development impact of revenues from the sector. 

In 2013, EITI raised the bar of transparency with the introduction of a new Standard that requires more detailed reporting on extractive company and state owned enterprise payments, government receipts and a broader range of contextual information on the sector in EITI implementing countries. The first batch of reports produced under the Standard arrived between late 2014 and early 2015. Many EITI countries have so far struggled to meet the enhanced requirements of the Standard and concerns have been raised about how they will be assessed when they undergo the validation process (the quality assurance process that leads to the judgement of compliance with the EITI Standard). 

More voices mean smarter cities

Stephen Davenport's picture
Urban cityscape.  Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

With the ink barely dry on the Sustainable Development Goals, naturally the just-completed Open Government Partnership annual summit focused on how greater openness can accelerate progress toward the goals.
The open government agenda is most closely linked to the ambitious Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which among other targets includes the objective of ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.” Though progress in this area is maddeningly difficult to quantify, evidence increasingly shows that participation, the next transparency frontier, matters to development outcomes. Making the target explicit, it is hoped, will galvanize efforts in the right direction.
There are many issues one could propose to tackle with citizen engagement strategies, but to narrow the topic of discussion, let’s consider just one: enabling smart growth in the world’s exploding cities and megacities.  Estimates suggest that by 2035 most of the world’s extreme poor will live in urban areas.

Blog Post of the Month: Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In October 2015, the featured blog post is "Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths" by Brian Levy.

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

Yes, but we also must not fall into a trap which parallels that of the technocratic fallacy – and let our high-minded advocacy of the rights of the poor blind us to the challenges of how to translate our rhetoric into reality. And it is here that Easterly’s Tyranny falls way, way short.

Stronger laws can help protect women from domestic violence

Paula Tavares's picture

Would it surprise you to know that one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence from their intimate partner? Or that as many as 38% of women who are murdered globally are killed by their partners? It is a sad reality, but those are the facts.

Globally, the most common form of violence against women is from an intimate partner. The statistics are shocking. And while these numbers are widely disseminated, the facts persist. The stories repeat themselves, affecting girls and women around the world regardless of race, nationality, social status or income level.

This sad reality was the cause of Nahr Ibrahim Valley’s death in Lebanon, just months after the country's new law on domestic violence was finally passed. The new law came after several cases sparked campaigns and protests in the Lebanese capital surrounding International Women’s Day last year. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save her life, but it can be the hope for thousands of women in the country, who previously had no legal protection against this type of crime.

The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project studies where countries have enacted laws protecting women from domestic violence. The fourth report in the series, Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal, finds that more than 1 out of 4 countries covered around the world have not yet adopted such legislation. The effects of this form of violence are multifold. It can lead to lower productivity, increase absenteeism and drive up health-care costs. Moreover, where laws do not protect women from domestic violence, women are likely to have shorter life spans. 

Domestic violence, also viewed as gender-specific violence, commonly directed against women, which occurs in the family and in interpersonal relationships, can take different forms. Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual or economic. The 2016 edition of Women, Business and the Law shows that, even where laws do exist, in only 3 out of 5 economies do they cover all four of those types of violence. Subjecting women to economic violence, which can keep them financially dependent, is only addressed in about half of the economies covered worldwide.

Has the governance agenda lost its mojo globally?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Romanian RevolutionWhen I started work in international development in London in the late 1990s, a more experienced colleague gave me the following insight. At some point, she said, I would either catch the bug and stay in the field or I would not and leave it to go and do something else. And it is usually some agenda within the broad field that would get you hooked, she added. She was right. I caught the bug and stayed in the field, and the agenda that excited my passion was and remains governance: efforts to improve governance systems in developing countries in order to do real and permanent good. The reason was obvious. I had moved to London from Lagos, Nigeria, having participated actively in the public affairs of the country; and I had left thoroughly convinced that unless governance improved in Nigeria there was no way that the abundance in the country would lead to improved welfare for the vast majority of its citizens. That remains my conviction.

In those days working on governance issues was exciting; for, it was like joining an army on the march, one that appeared ready to sweep everything before it. There was definite intellectual energy in the field. Practitioners had poise and confidence. Initiatives were being dreamt up by different donor agencies. Funds were pouring into the field. And we began to see a new breed of development professional: the so-called ‘governance advisers’. But behind it all, I suppose, was a powerful zeitgeist: the Berlin Wall was down, communism was on the ropes, and liberal constitutional democracy appeared to have triumphed with resounding finality.

But now, in late 2015, it all feels very different globally. In the words of the B.B. King classic: ‘The thrill is gone’.

How we made #OpenIndia

Ankur N's picture

Cross posted from the End Poverty in South Asia blog

open india

It has been a season ripe with new ideas and shifts in the open data conversation. At the Cartagena Data Festival in April, the call for a country-led data revolution was loud and clear. Later in June at the 3rd International Open Data Conference in Ottawa there was an emphasis on the use of open data-beyond mere publishing.

Mulling on these takeaways, a logical question to ask may be: what would a country-focused data project that aims to put data to use look like?

How can Russia grow out of recession?

Birgit Hansl's picture

Russia’s economic woes continue: the recession deepened in the first half of 2015, severely impacting households, while the economy continued to adjust to the 2014 terms-of-trade shock, which saw oil prices being halved within a few months. In addition, investment demand has contracted for a third consecutive year.

Economic policy uncertainty, arising from an unpredictable geopolitical situation and the ongoing sanctions, caused private investment to decline rapidly as capital costs rose and consumer demand evaporated.

The record drop in consumer demand was driven by a sharp contraction in real wages, which fell by an average of 8.5% in the first six months of 2015 - illustrating the severity of the recession. The erosion of real incomes significantly increased the poverty rate and exacerbated the vulnerability of households in the lower 40% of the income distribution.

So, if oil prices remain low, how can Russia grow out of its recession?

A conference to improve public finance management in Francophone Africa

Samia Msadek's picture

Also available in: French

Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank.

This week, officials from finance ministries and leaders of the accounting profession from across Francophone Africa will gather in Dakar, Senegal from Oct 28 to 30 to chart a path forward in their countries’ development. They will focus on an area that is often ignored, but is vital to national success and prosperity: public financial management. They will focus on financial reporting, which is also known as “the way governments keep track of your money.”

This topic is important to you, citizens of the world, of the African continent. How governments manage their taxes, their borrowing, their spending, and the ways they account for these forms of transactions – income, borrowing and expenditure – are essential to economic growth, to poverty-reduction, and to ensuring that the region’s poorest can improve their lives.

In many parts of Francophone Africa, accounting practices have a lot of room to improve. In particular, financial reporting and auditing need reforms, according to ongoing research by the World Bank and others. Policy-makers do not always have accurate information about the money available to provide vital and quality public services, such as school-teachers or the construction of health clinics or roads.